The Bower & Collier Family History

Research by Colin Bower

Sinking of  the SS Britannia 1941


There is some doubt about what lifeboats were damaged and which had survivors onboard.

I remember Dad saying that, in his view, later books got the number of his lifeboat wrong! Not that it mattered surely!

Still, it may be worth collating the different accounts:

Book, Lifeboat Number Seven by Lieut. Commander Frank West

Lifeboats lowered

Number 1 - immediately waterlogged

Numbers 5 and 6 - fully loaded and getting away

Number 7 - Frank West was detailed to be in charge of Service personnel at Number Seven Station
- 82 (19 European) on board of which just 38 survived (13 European)

- Numbers 9 and 10 - badly damaged, hanging in splinters in their davits

4 Four other lifeboats were at times visible, one of which was sinking.

Account written by Lt A. H. Rowlandson

Number 1 - waterlogged
- 3 men trying to bale her out

Number 2 - fully loaded and pushing off

Number 3 -fully loaded and clear of the ship
- commanded by Commander S. Spurgeon, R.A.N.
- 63 survivors picked up by Cabo de Hornos

Number 4 - reserved for ship's officers
- full of splinter holes
- had 7 on board
- survivors appear to have been picked up by Number 3

Number 5 - fully loaded (55)
- in charge Captain S.H.Paton, C.B.E., R.N.
- survivors picked up by SS Bachi

Number 6 - Lt Rowlandson in charge but finished up on a raft (saw 4 lifeboats nearby)

Number 7 - being lowered

Number 8 - clear of the ship's side

Number 9 - hanging in splinters at the davits

Number 10 - being lowered
- had been badly holed
- of 50 people (12 European) just 7 survived
- commanded by Lt. A.D. Hunter (see Other Sources)
- survivors picked up by Cabo de Hornos


67 Survivors (52 European) in another lifeboat were picked up by SS Raranga and taken to Montevideo

Lifeboats per book, German Raiders of World War II

The book states that by one count, there were nine lifeboats launched but the book gives the fate of 6 only.

Port Side of Britannia

No. 4 was splintered (Ed. but still lowered for the ship's officers)
No. 6 got away but was overcrowded (Ed. this may have had the survivors picked up by the Raranga)

Starboard Side

No. 1 was overcrowded
No. 3 was overcrowded, survivors picked up by the Cabo de Hornos
No. 5 was overcrowded, survivors picked up by Bachi
No. 7 was overcrowded but sailed to Brazil

Other Sources

Lt Richard Joseph Tadhunter, R.N.R. received a Commendation. Putting 2 and 2 together, I think that he is one and the same as A.D. Hunter, Commander of Lifeboat No. 10 that had such a torrid time before 7 people were picked up by the Cabo de Hornos.

This would solve the mystery of why A.D. Hunter did not sign my father's Cabo de Hornos menu.

On reading Donald Brown's account again, he too was in Lifeboat No 10 on which 43 of 50 people died. The lifeboat picked up the occupants of another lifeboat which was waterlogged.

He was in charge of Lifeboat No. 8 but it pulled away before he could get in it.I have no other record of what happened to Lifeboat No. 8.


1. According to Rowlandson and Muggenthaler, 9 lifeboats were launched - 1 to 8 and 10. No. 9 was too badly damaged

2. Many were fully loaded if not overcrowded (The Board of Trade capacity was 56)

3. We know what happened to five of the nine lifeboats - 3, 4, 5, 7 and 10.

4. We do not know what happened to the other four lifeboats - 1, 2, 6 and 8.though No. 8 was lowered and pulled away.

Lifeboats 1, 2, and 6 were supposed to be fully loaded or overcrowded

The survivors of one of these lifeboats were picked up by the Raranga and taken to Montevideo.

Another lifeboat was waterlogged and the occupants were transfered to Lifeboat No. 10.

5. Research to date produces the following list oif survivors from the lifeboats, 3 rafts and one dinghy:

1 - Picked up by the Thor
77 - from Lifeboats 3 and 10, 1 dinghy and 3 rafts picked up by the Cabo de Hornos
51 from Lifeboat No. 5 picked up by the Bachi (In his account Thomas Caldwell says that 63 of 65 survived)
38 from Lifeboat No. 7 which reached Brazil
67 from a lifeboat picked up by the Raranga and taken to Montevideo
234 Total

Colin Bower
5 November 2020

Link to:
Britannia Index

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